Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US looks to put weapons in space

AIR FORCE AIM A defense expert says the US is likely to ignore a treaty that bans putting weapons in orbit as documents show an intent to achieve `space superiority'


The US has begun preparing its next military objective -- space. Documents reveal that the US Air Force (USAF) has for the first time adopted a doctrine to establish "space superiority."

The new doctrine means that pre-emptive strikes against enemy satellites would become "crucial steps in any military operation."

This week defense experts will attend a conference in London amid warnings that President George W. Bush's re-election will pave the way to the arming of space.

Internal USAF documents reveal that seizing control of the "final frontier" is deemed essential for modern warfare. Counterspace Operations reveals that destroying enemy satellites would improve the chance of victory. It states: "Space superiority provides freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack. Space and air superiority are crucial first steps in any military operation."

Theresa Hitchens, vice-president of a Washington-based independent think tank, the Center for Defence Information, said: "These documents show that they are taking space control seriously."

This week's meeting, held by the British-American Security Information Council (BASIC), will also discuss whether Britain can restrain a US administration intent on strategic control of space.

Next year's budget for the US Missile Defense Agency includes funding for research into the development of "space-based interceptors." Although the funding allocated to develop lightweight ballistic missile parts is only ?7.5 million (US$13.9 million), further details have emerged of a more ambitious program to site weapons in space.

Plans for a "thin constellation of three to six spacecraft" in orbit, which would target enemy missiles as they took off or landed, are planned, according to Hitchens. The document, Hitchens said, signals that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which outlaws the use of weapons in orbit, will be ignored.

Of equal concern to some UK defense experts is Britain's agreement in principle to station US interceptor missiles at RAF Fylingdales, in northeast England. Participation in the missile defense program means that Britain is already "locked into" a program that could ultimately include space warfare, say those who are monitoring developments.

"If the UK government tries to argue that it is participating in missile defense, but not in the weaponization of space, either officials have been duped or they are being disingenuous," Hitchens said.

Suggestions of a deepening relationship between Britain and the US over missile defense surfaced again last week. A parliamentary statement from British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon to Labour Member of Parliament Llew Smith conceded that the Ministry of Defense has sent two experts to work at the US Missile Defense Agency. Another two will be sent next year.

In a debate last week, defense minister Lord Bach admitted the US was encouraging Britain to get involved in its missile program.

"The US has offered to extend coverage and make missile defense capabilities available to the UK and other allies, should we require them," he said.

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